Move over shiitake. New mushroom in town

CORNELL (US) —An exotic fungus may follow the lead of shiitake mushrooms and become a hit with farmers.

Long cultivated by the Chinese for its medicinal benefits and ideally suited to growing conditions in New York forests—lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceus) could provide new opportunities for farmers, woodlot owners, and even backyard mushroom enthusiasts, says Ken Mudge, associate professor of horticulture at Cornell University.

Experiments show that lion’s mane’s seafood-like texture and flavor-absorbing properties would also make it a treat for chefs in search of new culinary inspiration.

Mudge recently introduced farmers to the cultivation of shiitake and lion’s mane mushrooms at a two-day workshop at the Arnot Teaching and Research Forest at Cornell.

Using a “totem” system in which 1-foot-long logs are stacked on top of each other, Mudge achieved “impressive production” of around two pounds of lion’s mane mushrooms per log.

Similar to shiitake mushrooms, logs are drilled with holes and inoculated with sawdust colonized with mushroom mycelium. The holes are sealed with wax, and the logs are stacked in the shade and left for a year.

While shiitake logs are “flushed,” (put in a stream or tank of cold water overnight) to shock the fungi into production, lion’s mane totems fruit on their own schedule, often more than once a year for three to five years.

With shiitake mushrooms selling for $12-16 per pound, a relatively small investment of work can yield a significant supplemental income. With 100 inoculated logs per year, and each log producing for three years, an annual gross income after four years would be around $6,000, Mudge says.

Currently, lion’s mane is only grown commercially indoors, in sawdust. Shiitake can also be grown that way, but most consumers prefer the flavor of those grown outdoors, Mudge says.

“There have been very few attempts to grow lion’s mane as a forest farming crop, and we think it has a lot of potential. It’s considered a real gourmet item,” he adds. “We see it as a great way that a mushroom farmer can diversify.”

Mudge is now in the midst of a three-year project working with growers to establish commercial shiitake enterprises. More than 150 people attended two introductory workshops, and 23 were selected from seven states across the Northeast.

Last summer they inoculated 100 logs each. They are now tracking their labor, expenses, mushroom harvest, and sales to determine best management practices.

Mushroom grower Steve Sierigk says there’s a big local demand for shiitake mushrooms—more than he can supply with the 800 logs inoculated on his Hector, New York, property. “I feel like we are on the crest of a wave,” he says.

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